Good thoughts

Remember happiness doesn’t depend upon who you are or what you have; it depends solely on what you think.

Dale Carnegie (via brainyquote.com

The world spins on its axis without any consideration how that affects humanity. Many live and die without learning that happiness is not measured in what we accumulate, nor in how others perceive us. For those who spend their lives in desperate search for meaning, perhaps the childlike wonder we once held seems an old and immature way of thinking. We become conceited. We search for answers to questions that do not leave us content. Some wear themselves out seeking happiness through knowledge, position, or imposing their will upon others. Some contend with one another over ideas. Worse, is when a child’s sense of wonder is quashed by such thinking. Unhappiness is certainly an unfortunate consequence of becoming an adult in the modern world.

Perhaps it is the human condition, to be blinded to the simple pleasures of the world that has existed for thousands of millennia without requiring our intellect to reshape the mountains or influence wind and wave. In our hubris with which we perceive the world, do we miss the opportunity to enjoy the days we have been granted? It is truly one of the great misfortunes of maturity, that we do not recall what it is to feel awe of the world we held as children.

1 My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
2 But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.

3 Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.

  -Psalm 131 (NIV)

I am not one who fears what is beyond my understanding or control. It is enough for me to entrust my family and happiness to a Power that is timeless, and perfect. Those like me feel awe and security in a God who holds the Universe in His hands. I am closer to the time I return to dust than my childlike wonder years. It is a blessing to be able to enjoy, through a child’s eyes, the wonder of the world where everything is new. A few hours spent with our grandchild, I marvel, at his mirth when I make faces to entertain him, and when I am entrusted to hold the dried leaves and twigs he gathers on our walks in the park. When I respond to his outstretched arm, carrying him from one adventure to the next, I consider that God himself still carries me. And that fills me with good thoughts.

Proper application and value of “lessons learned”

Preliminary opinions, mostly “armchair quarterbacking”, of the horrific fire aboard the almost-completed refurbishment of the USS BON HOMME RICHARD, (ed. note: abbreviated here as BHR) have started. Murmuring that “lessons learned” regarding the ship’s material condition, monitoring of contractors, and security and safety duties by the crew may reveal inadequate measures taken in one or all areas. Or that an electrical malfunction or overheated equipment started the fire. Reduced to “duty section” personnel aboard ship during weekends in-port in the United States, as the fire was initially called away on Sunday morning, is a long-standing practice of balancing the safety needs for the ship, reduced operations, and liberty for crew who may be at-sea and away from home for nine months a year. This reduced manning may have prevented casualties. Published reports indicate that construction materials were stored in a large interior area where the fire is suspected of igniting. Equipment, furnishings and materials used aboard Navy ships are specifically designed to be fire-resistant and low emitters of toxics. However, during the transition from the yard to an operational state, material may have still been staged in containers called “tri-walls”, These rugged, large-volume, cardboard cartons and their contents might have fed the blaze. For anyone familiar with shipboard life, cleaning is an around-the-clock process aboard a vessel. A maintenance period makes the effort more difficult as well as more important. Dust removal which is omnipresent on ship, salt corrosion due the maritime environment, any trash left by the contract workforce, and improper stowage of cleaning rags and agents all contribute to ship safety issues. Work performed in the vicinity preceding the fire may be suspect. Investigation will likely include any activity in the twelve hours prior to the fire being reported.

Existing practices

Standards in place over several decades, incorporating “lessons learned” from reports of incidents around the Fleet, are managed by several departments within the Department of the Navy. Guidance is distributed by directives from the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV), from Naval Safety Center’s investigations, and from Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) which oversees all afloat construction, maintenance and repair, including shipyards and at other facilities. In past, established practices to monitoring work being performed at any hour, scheduled inspections and audits, and well-practiced safety operations would likely be sufficient to mitigate risk. As with any work or potential hazard, human error, negligence or malicious conduct is not always preventable.

Fire is an ever-present danger

Fire is an ever-present threat at sea. On a ship or submarine, crews are thoroughly trained to fight several emergencies from flooding, collision, munitions, toxic gases, electrical and different classes of fire. Identified by the combustible materials, those that burn leaving an ash such as paper, bedding, clothing, or stores can be extinguished with one agent. Fuels and oil require an oxygen disrupting agent. And Class C fires, are electrical in origin, and take different methods to extinguish. On the latter two, “starving” the fire of oxygen knocks the fire down. Besides corrosion to metals and equipment, the danger of electrical shock to firefighters or arcing is present with water, while its use against fuel fires disperses flaming fuel instead of extinguishing it. On three different classes of ships during my eight years at sea, we practiced incessantly for emergencies at-sea and in-port. And practiced security drills. With millions of dollars of valuable equipment aboard and in a time when espionage and terrorism are real concerns, members of the ships’ crew are assigned to accompany contractors, not otherwise cleared for unrestricted access, while aboard. For all “hot work”, that is, welding or grinding, a Sailor and/or a civilian performed as a “fire watch” for the welder. Sometimes, shipboard personnel charged with the vessel and crew’s safety would monitor both the welder and the fire watch. Why such a fuss? The danger from welding or grinding is due to heat or random sparks being generated which could cause combustible material to smolder (sometimes for hours) or set material ablaze in adjacent compartments through convection or radiated heat.

Systems and thorough practice

Aboard ship, the Engineering Department is the primary team responsible for damage control and management of the fire safety systems. These systems consist of pressurized fire mains, firefighting chemical (Aqueous Firefighting Foam or AFFF) and Halon gas (fire suppression) systems. The corrosive properties of seawater on metals and electrical components is well-known, so the Damage Control team evaluates available resources to fight a fire. However, the danger (the BHR fire was reported to be as hot as 1000 F) of water flashing into steam adds to the hazards for firefighters. As has been reported, the Halon system was undergoing maintenance and unavailable to flood a compartment that was on fire. Seawater therefore was apparently the primary means to fight the fire and attempt to cool the hull and compartments to contain its severity. According to one report, the team using AFFF were evacuated due to an explosion in one of the machinery compartments, and it is unclear whether they were able to resume its use. (According to another source, some non-Navy firefighter personnel abandoned their stations when a pump exploded requiring the Navy personnel to be withdrawn.)

Danger during Maintenance periods

The conditions during a maintenance period can contribute to safety hazards. Combustible materials may be used during maintenance contributing to conflagration. Sometimes a heavy paper is affixed to bulkheads (walls) and decks to minimize abrasion from equipment being moved. Terrazzo, a chemically-bonded interior decking material, sometimes has plywood overlaid by shipyard workers to prevent marring by heavy equipment and foot traffic during a maintenance period. Sometimes hatches are not dogged properly, which might either be due to inattention, protruding temporary cabling or poor placement. An improperly closed hatch or scuttle might then allow flammable material or gases to receive sufficient air to burn, or fire to penetrate other compartments. Or improper placement or shifting of material used during the maintenance period might cause running equipment to overheat. Or an electrical problem may cause arcing (sparking) to occur.

The human factor of safety practices

During my time in the U S Navy (nearly three decades), willful damage (in the case of USS MIAMI or USS COMPTE DE GRASSE) was not often suspected, and particularly not suspected to be caused by members of the crew. However, in 2012, a Navy contractor aboard the former, at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Maine deliberately started a fire which resulted in the sub being scrapped. In the latter case, in 1994 a Navy crewman on the SPRUANCE-class destroyer, purposely damaged reduction gears causing extensive damage to propulsion and prevented the ship from deploying.

The investigation of the submarine fire revealed that the perpetrator was not being monitored continuously by a member of the submarine’s crew for a specific period of time. The civilian deliberately set a “small” fire expecting to get off work early. Having too few members of a “duty section”, assigning additional tasks for the crewman assigned to monitor that contractor, or improper vetting of civilian workers may have contributed to the incident. Once the reports have been issued by the investigation aboard the BHR, and the repair costs evaluated. the Navy may return the same verdict as in the MIAMI.

While Navy veterans and those currently in uniform, hope that the destructive fire aboard her was the result of accident, lapses in judgement, or an “act of GOD”, the Navy should not rule out sabotage. Evidence will reveal one or all of these factors. If sabotage, justice will be meted out. In the case of the civilian in the USS MIAMI case, the perpetrator was given a 17-year prison sentence. The sailor in the USS COMPTE DE GRASSE incident also received a lengthy sentence.

Lessons to be learned and then applied

However, the most important lessons to be gathered from this recent fire are to find where the shortcomings were, what worked well, and to implement change with practices, systems or personnel. Others have commented that implementation of lessons from prior incidents and casualties may have been slow to promulgate due to the bureaucracies responsible, or the incident the practice inspired receding into history. The practices that need to be changed will be studied, but the immediate operational effects are more troubling. The loss of the ship’s ability to deploy will cause more problems for the Navy meeting its commitments. With the recent quarter-billion dollar overhaul making it one of four similar ships to provide amphibious F-35 fighter support, the loss is substantial. Billions of dollars and years of construction and validation may be required to replace the USS BON HOMME RICHARD. The void left in the interim will likely result in longer deployments for other ship crews in order to balance the increasing militarization by Russia, China, and other actors in the world.

Preserve, protect and defend

My career in the Navy was committed to preserving the American people and the principles found in our Founding documents. This nation experiences problems that have contradicted those principles all along the last two hundred years. People that have wanted to ignore or redefine those principles. Particularly in the last four years, we have witnessed those who violated their office to uphold public good, safety and the Constitution at all levels of government. At every level, from local to the Presidency, the courts, and state-appointed bureaucrats, we have had a lack of leadership. Division, Fear and ideology replacing honest assessment and problem-solving.

If you have never been in combat, you cannot “understand” what a combat veteran with PTSD is going through. In America particularly, you may never have had guns drawn on you by police, or stopped to question you – simply because you are a particular skin color. Consider anyone you prejudged by their race, religion, origin, unemployment, homelessness, politics, physical disability, or weakness – alcohol, drugs, gambling, pornography, etc. How would you want others to treat you if situations were reversed? Many of us completely absolve another person of horrible attitudes, behavior, or past due to a characteristic we share or a certain point of agreement. We attribute any negatives brought up by others to “bad apples” and refuse to consider anything deeper.

We need to address, and correct the deficiencies, starting with race, but also determine how to accomplish change peacefully. Not by murdering police officers, blocking streets, burning buildings or adding slogans on advertising. Not with lifetime pols in public office, nor vigilante patrols, or by destroying monuments, and deleting history that offends someone. Not by white killing white, brown killing brown, or black killing black – or such. Not with one-sided simplistic journalism to trigger fear while driving ratings up. Honest assessment. Building up not tearing down our differences. So we start with race, law enforcement, crime and punishment. Correct the wrongs and punish the guilty. Change mindsets, and change the conditions that set people up from childhood to experience inequality. Promote discussions. Then work on the next inequality.

In the military, we started with a process – changing mindsets from civilian to military. Physical and mental conditioning. Working together, problem-solving, succeeding or failing as a team. Never quitting and above all, protecting one another and completing the mission. Otherwise, this country’s enemies will not respect us – they will snuff out our dreams for our grandchildren, turn others against us, and cheer us on as we destroy ourselves.

Memorial day

“Those who have long enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy forget in time that men have died to win them.” 

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, President

The world is chock full of selfish tyrants, deluded extremists, and self-righteous windbags. Many people live under the control and limits imposed by these kinds of people. Some are fortunate to live where there are opportunities to excel, to pursue careers, and to raise families without fearing for their safety or welfare. The United States of America., however, was founded on principles that were enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, of personal freedoms and Government that is the agent of the governed. These principles have been defended for two and a half centuries by men and women to the point of shedding blood.

Memorial Day was established to recognize and remember that Freedom, the everyday rights and privileges that Americans enjoy, came at a cost. Whatever your political leanings, belief in the supernatural – or not, the color of your skin, or your origin, this particular nation – the United States – is and remains, the one that most of the world’s people, given the opportunity, stream toward. And regardless of individual biases or misgivings about warfare, the military, or those who protect Life, Liberty, and Property, the truth remains that our people have died in defense of foreigners as well as our citizens at home.

In recent decades, the fundamental principles and unity of Americans (in self-identity and language) have come under attack from those who use the very protections afforded them by the United States to attack it. To some, the expressions of “Rights” is separate from the idea of “Responsibilities”, and demand the former without expectations to abide by the latter. Voting (holding accountability of Government to the governed), expression and speech, “2nd Amendment”, and everyone abiding by the laws that reflect the principles and tradition of our Founders, are just a few of the most contentious. Others demand their exclusion from societal policies that were enacted and enforced, poorly at times, by men and women whom our system of governance has entrusted to safeguard the welfare of all our citizens.

Memorial Day, particularly in 2020, should be honored and remembered by all United States residents, for the sacrifice of our military members who died wearing the uniform honorably; Law Enforcement and First Responders; and especially in 2020, our medical professionals; whether their deaths were due to combat, acts of terrorism, wanton violence, accident, or the COVID-19 virus.

Ask the Chief

leadership

I heard a great sea story once about an engineering problem given to a room full of Officer Candidate School students. Given a number of requirements, they had to calculate how to get the job done. Every pencil in the classroom was furiously calculating away but for one student. That student, a Navy Chief Petty Officer, had written, “Find a Chief Petty Officer. Tell him, “Chief, I need this flagpole erected. Today.”

One of the best leadership tools has been around four thousand years.

  • Seek Advice:
    • 22 Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed (Proverbs 15: 22)
  • Don’t talk so much
    • And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words (Matthew 6:7)
  • Arrogance loses to humility every time
    • When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom (Proverbs 11:2)
  • Set the example for others
    • 13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. (James 3:13)
  • Listen, and learn
    • let the wise listen and add to their learning,  and let the discerning get guidance— (Proverbs 1:5)

Leadership books are written by the thousands, to distill for others the principles and lessons of leadership. Some look for quick guidelines and surefire tricks. Others look for the “rules” to impress on others or for the means to skirt “around” them. Many realize that leadership is as much developing character as it is authority and taking action. Just as a military veteran understands that we are under authority, and those authorities are under authority, it is through the lessons of Scripture, ultimate authority desires us to seek Wisdom, and reverently follow our Creator.

Why Responsibility Is So Important — Steve Rose, PhD

With all of the recent social distancing measures, we have been repeatedly told by public health officials that it is our responsibility to stay home and flatten the curve. You are not responsible for the problem, but you now find yourself responsible for part of the solution. It can be frustrating, it can be isolating,…

Why Responsibility Is So Important — Steve Rose, PhD

tinkering with raspberries

A blogging compatriot, Biff Sock Pow on WordPress issued an invitation to write about “Whatnot” this Wednesday. And being a big believer in blogging, I thought “why not” include a project that I have been working on? Some might find projects to home-school their children or grandchildren, or possibly irritate their spouse. If you cannot do something worthwhile during a pandemic “shelter in place”, some might end up doing laundry, the dishes, or “rotating” their stock in the liquor cabinet to pass the time.

As anyone who came lately to the “working from home” party – you will know that acquiring a webcam with, or without a microphone – to prepare a desktop PC, or even to buy a simple laptop – became impossible early in the second week of March. And as a self-employed (and soon un-employed) entrepreneur, three or four thousand dollars, for a professional system was ludicrous.

That being said, I had a box of components, cables and AC adapters in my office closet for a Raspberry Pi single board computer kit. Which was easy to overlook, and had not generated a recent “what are you planning to do with that?” from my spouse. A few years ago, when I was constantly tinkering with projects both at work and at home, I had various motherboards, hard drives, power supplies, and computers in the office, the garage, and even a few things in the car. Most were recycled through Goodwill.

A Raspberry Pi was useful to an engineer who needed a small server for a test network. But there are many applications for a programming student, a hobbyist, or for guy needing a video-conferencing tool. For less than $70 US, I acquired the board, power supply, cables, case, a camera module, and a micro-SD card. Should you want to experiment, there is a website , and from Googling other contributors to the Raspberry Pi operating system (it is a variant of Debian Linux), you may find any number of modifications for your purposes.

Fortunately the subject did not break the camera test

Tinkering around with settings, writing and modifying programs might seem daunting to those unfamiliar with programming. I used the nano script editor and versions of Python scripting language to do what I needed. As a now retired-developer and test person, the cables, duct tape, multiple monitors, keyboards and mice that cover my desk, were too much for my spouse. “Why do you need all that?!” and “Can’t you just buy a webcam and plug it in?”

Empty store shelves and “backordered” online retailers, is exactly why I built one. It was not, in John F. Kennedy’s immortal words, “”We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard,” (cit). It was because I needed one, and figured why not just put my experience to use. What I knew from past experience was making the jump from different operating systems and applications, would be a little complicated. But Navy Chiefs are not one to shy away from challenge. And an electronics technician for many years has enough hubris to tackle a project with a short timeline. It was relatively easy to assemble, modify the program and then port the video capture to my Windows desktop. Where it got a little challenging was making the video feed available to the Zoom teleconferencing app. There are a number of applications that are easier to work with, for programmers and hobbyists, but my audience – participants, and my production team (spouse) wanted the promised Zoom conference. So …

A Samsung tablet with built-in camera and speaker, with the Zoom application installed was last night’s solution. As for my Raspberry Pi? I will take down my workstation and put it back in the closet for now. Some may shoot for the Moon, when others just want your project not to blow up on the launchpad. (Or when the camera falls over not to knock everything on her desk onto the floor.)

I wonder if Robert Goddard’s started this way?

The Idiot’s Guide to Social Networking

I am dusting off and republishing a few of my oldest efforts blogging. Rough around the edges. Originally published in July, 2009, on my then first blog site “White Male Born Forty” It feels like it was a thousand years ago.

2009 predictions, via slideshare.net

It is unusual for me to admit that I may use technology, but do not necessarily embrace it. While I make my living at a technology company, I do not embrace every nuance, gadget, or appliance that others find indispensable. I have no interest in the Ipod. I don’t need a special ring-tone for individual callers. It is amusing, but not a necessity, that I have the latest cell phone, Kindle, or detail my every move tweeting away on Twitter.

Several years ago a friend at church introduced me to a novel web mail site, Gmail, where I could absolutely ignore the routine preoccupation with overflowing my storage capacity or even whether I could find a particular email in all that space. In the 12 years since I first used email and particularly web mail, this has become an indispensable tool for me. Daily I am reminded why I am proficient with email — some engineer or supervisor may ask me about an event that I was in some manner responsible a year or two prior — and I can influence the outcome of that conversation by producing an archived copy of an email showing he is off the hook!

But I have drawn the line! First, I was intrigued by a site offering an opportunity to find and swap sea stories with shipmates. In thirty years around or in the Navy, there have been a lot of folks I would like to have a chance to thank, call out, or just laugh together at how gray and fat we have become. But then it started to flood in — “Join me on MySpace”, “Check out old friends and family ties on Genealogy.com”, “Be recommended to other professionals on LinkedIn”, “MSN”, Navy instant messaging, business chatrooms, political websites and a constant barrage of instant messaging and recommended websites to my Blackberry and my computer. Even the TV – via the cable programming – offers two -way, instant, specialized content at the push of a button.

But what the heck is “Twitter”! and why would anyone care! I really have gone from being occasionally curious about that old friend who still owes me a drink or two from that bar six thousand miles and fifteen years ago, to a little irritated by the invasion of the peddlers who insist that my love life could be improved – as a result of my using the term “love bratwurst” in the search engine last week! Have you ever tried to delete the unwanted spam in your email, or railed against the indignity of the monthly charge from some obscure “entertainment” site simply because you ordered tickets to “sponge-Bob meet pimp-my-ride” show online?

I often am accused of behaving and thinking – and thus the origin of my blog’s name – as a White Male who was born an inflexible, stuck-in-my-ways, 40 year old. Hey I know plenty of people who begin sentences with ” when I put the record on the turntable”, or “would you believe we used to call our friends from pay phones?” It seems now strange that once, “social networking” was hooking up at the drive-in on Friday nights! Just as I am convinced that you can adapt at any stage of life to perform more efficiently with a technology aid – I am equally convinced that the society degrades to a little with each new technology introduced.

If we only had the technology dreamed up in the Matrix! Plug that big cable into my head and fill me up with all the information so I can jump across high-rise buildings or drive a SPECWAR combat chopper, or speak Mandarin. But you know, the part the movie didn’t show is that all that body morphing and plugging in – you couldn’t find privacy in a toilet. Everybody was connected to one giant theater.


So today, I have a brief encounter with social networking, but prefer the good, old-fashioned, 10-second chit-chat at my favorite donut shop when I start my commute to work, ” how’s the apple fritters today?” “isn’t it great that so many folks start their day with a cup of your coffee”. The day they offer me the ability to pre-order my sugar-fix on Twitter, is the day I wrap my head in aluminum foil and move to that spot in the desert 3 or 4 miles off the paved road, where the folks still complain about the neighbors when the nearest is a half-mile away. Wait a minute! Let me get on Facebook to update my status! Otherwise I might become a technophobe!

Social media, old-school (1500 BC)

Military leadership, readiness, national security and armchair quarterbacking during a pandemic

There are a lot of outraged voices, from the mothers of Navy Sailors aboard the USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT, halls of the United States Congress, international and national news outlets, to crusty, retired officers and Chief Petty Officers regarding the Navy Department’s handling of (1) incidence of the Corona virus, COVID-19, sickening the ship’s crew, and (2) her skipper’s communications with senior leadership in the Pentagon. And the final outrage, was the Commanding Officer’s dismissal as commander of the TR at the direction of the Secretary of the Navy.

As the facts leading up to Captain Brett Crozier’s removal as the Commanding Officer become clearer, it appears that from the 3 crewmembers who were reported to the Navy Department to have symptoms of the corona virus on March 24th, as of Monday, March 30, that number had grown to one hundred Sailors. On Tuesday, April 1st, a letter from Captain Crozier, dated March 30, to the Navy Department was released by the San Francisco Chronicle detailing the emerging crisis. According to statements obtained after the Captain’s dismissal, during that same week in March, the Navy had been working to obtain medical beds and accommodations on Guam, for the Sailors who had not yet been exposed. One undisclosed spokesperson told the paper that the complexity of a nuclear-powered warship with weapons, billions of dollars of equipment aboard, and a specific mission priorities was not a matter of simply going pierside and offloading the crew.

According to an article published in Foreign Policy (foreignpolicy.com), the Captain had multiple conversations with the chief of staff to the acting Navy Secretary, Thomas Modly, just prior to his letter being leaked to the journal. According to the remarks of Acting Secretary Modly, loss of confidence in Captain Crozier’s leadership, primarily in releasing his communication with Navy senior leadership outside official Navy channels (unsecured email) was the primary motivation for his dismissal. At the time of Modly’s remarks to the Press, no implication had been made that Crozier himself emailed the San Francisco newspaper.

From his Navy biography, Captain Crozier has 28 years of experience as a Naval officer. He is a graduate of the Naval Academy, Naval Postgraduate School, Navy Nuclear Power School, as well as his role as a aviator. His roles indicate his competence and increasingly stature, from tours supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom, squadron commander, Executive Officer of the carrier Ronald Reagan and Commander of the USS Blue Ridge ( the Commander, Seventh Fleet flagship). From his pedigree and expertise, it does not seem that this man would be given to poor judgement or failure to command. Following the chain of command, for guidance is as much a part of military training for officers and enlisted personnel as is maintaining operational security (OPSEC). One of the tenets of military leadership is preventing potential adversaries observing a weakness or casualty of one of the means of a nation’s power projection. From the letter released by the Chronicle, the commanding officer’s opening remarks convey his human, if desperate concern for his crew.

For anyone who has watched the 1949 film, Twelve O’clock High, part of the curriculum for in a Navy leadeship seminar in the early 2000s, a failure of military leadership – was the rationale for an American bomber squadron commander being relieved. Fatigue, a lack of discipline, and over-protectiveness for his men were conveyed rather convincingly by the commander being relieved. The incoming commander portrayed by Gregory Peck, demanded military bearing, performance, and training standards that returned the unit effectiveness. (Note: while actor Jimmy Stewart actually flew bombers over Germany in WWII, Gregory Peck was medically exempted from service). Evidence from wartime, acts of terrorism, and peacetime accidents among all the military services tend to corroborate that a commanding officer cannot relax military discipline, rules barring familiarity, nor standards of professionalism because it may diminish effectiveness and bring harm to all members of a unit.

The Captain may have understood that the Navy, like large bureaucracies, takes a glacially -long time to respond to crises, and the exponential rate of infection aboard his ship needed swift action to preserve his crew’s health. The threat to the health of a military unit, from influenza, or a biological agent has been considered for years. A casual search online for training, policies and procedures related to the Department of Defense, military readiness, and contagious disease, found several official sources listed here.

Policies and procedures, if only considered as an academic exercise, when dealing with a global pandemic, may not be part of a tactical commander’s toolkit. Just as the rest of the country has begun experiencing the severity of the illness and the mitigation efforts of “social distancing”, aboard a Navy ship, it has long been known that an entire crew will put to sea – and any flu bug that some experience will work its way to everyone. With the nature of COVID-19, healthy Sailors might be dead within two weeks of exposure – and infect any number of shipmates before symptoms are evident.

As for the Captain’s options, it may have definitely been an error in judgement if his letter was not conveyed with the approval of his next senior in command, through official navy channels, or to include spouse or spouses unsecured (non-military) email addresses in a Navy unclassified email. However, it is certainly a lapse in judgement if purposely sent through unofficial channels and intended for senior leadership. While the message and not the medium is being highlighted by most non-military experts, Crozier’s options to expedite a response was equally damaging for him personally. While the Acting Navy Secretary may have provided a direct line for the Captain to communicate his concerns, going outside the Chain of Command, in bypassing the theater Air and Fleet Commanders, and the several seniors in command at the Pentagon, to directly communicate with the Secretary, would doom his naval career anyway.

It is unreasonable for civilians, young sailors, spouses, academics and politicians to demand as to what the Navy should or should not do regarding decisions, leadership roles, policy and procedures, or fitness for Command. Politics and public opinion should have little bearing on how the military operates. But veterans know that politics have had a great deal of influence on how the military conducts America’s foreign policy. With a pandemic threatening our global readiness, none of us ‘armchair quarterbacks’ can reliably comment how a commander should have responded. It was for superior conduct, making difficult decisions and carrying out the orders of the President and his senior commanders, that a warship commander is rigorously trained and selected. -ES

the answer is forty-two

In the late 1970s, a British radio program, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy introduced me to brilliant satire, a science fiction story, and more of the British wit I already enjoyed in another British show, Monty Python’s Flying Circus. A book (Douglas Adams), television and a 2005 movie popularized the story for fans.

For those who are not fans, the story introduces us to Arthur Dent, an ordinary English guy, completely lacking in self-confidence, who finds one morning that his home is scheduled for demolition by the local government planning commission – to put a highway where it sat. He commiserates with a friend, Ford Prefect, who it turns out is an extraterrestrial who has come to rescue him. Apparently some galactic planning commission intends to destroy the Earth that day, to put through some highway of its own.

The story involves several humorous jabs at bureaucracy, technology, space travel, romance, and political incompetents. At one point, the plot story describes that some galactic beings – in the form of common mice – commissioned a computer to answer the question, “what is the meaning of life, the universe and everything?”. The answer, “42” confuses them, so they seek a second computer to find the specific question that “42” satisfies. Before they could get a satisfactory answer, the computer – Earth – was destroyed for that highway mentioned earlier. At the end of the story, everything is made right again with a newly-assembled planet Earth, but the mice-beings and their quest for the eternal answer are thwarted by Arthur.

Sometimes I think that the eternal answer to the meaning of Life will continue to elude most people. For the rest? Love your neighbor, enjoy the time you have, and most importantly, do not misplace your towel.

Ask the Chief: we follow orders

“.we follow orders..Or people die”

A Few Good Men, (1992) movie, line uttered by Colonel Jessup (Jack Nicholson)

As a retired Navy Senior Chief, I spent 26 years following orders of those seniors-in-command, whether directly from Commanding Officers as their unit Senior Enlisted Leader, or indirectly, while carrying out my assigned duties, watches, or maintenance tasks during my career. As a civilian, I am trying to follow our State officials, medical experts, and emergency First Responders who have been asking the public to minimize their comings and goings. While the military has both non-judicial punishment and legal proceedings to enforce “social distancing”, in the civilian world, the public is “strongly suggested” to follow State Emergency guidelines for public safety. Some will always decide they know more than public safety officials. As we have seen during hurricanes, people who refuse to evacuate the path of the storm are frequently requiring rescue or hospitalization when disaster strikes.

Tonight, as I contemplate that the Governor of California has issued a Statewide mandate to limit public contact by restricting gatherings and use of public venues even further than two weeks ago, I think how an old veteran can be a model for others. It is the eleventh hour, and our political representatives have finally stopped fighting among themselves, and are seeking to do what is best for our citizens. Given the example of places like Italy which has been overwhelmed by the number of critically ill, we have only days till the numbers of the ill exponentially exceed our response. This thought about the eleventh hour, reminded me of the orders I learned in bootcamp forty years ago:

Eleven General Orders of a sentry

  1. To take charge of this post and all government property in view.
  2. To walk my post in a military manner, keeping always on the alert, and observing everything that takes place within sight or hearing.
  3. To report all violations of orders I am instructed to enforce.
  4. To repeat all calls from posts more distant from the guard house than my own.
  5. To quit my post only when properly relieved.
  6. To receive, obey and pass on to the sentry who relieves me, all orders from the Commanding Officer, Command Duty Officer, Officer of the Deck, and Officers and Petty Officers of the Watch only.
  7. To talk to no one except in the line of duty.
  8. To give the alarm in case of fire or disorder.
  9. To call the Officer of the Deck in any case not covered by instructions.
  10. To salute all officers and all colors and standards not cased.
  11. To be especially watchful at night, and, during the time for challenging, to challenge all persons on or near my post and to allow no one to pass without proper authority.

I have not practiced military drills in the ten years since retirement. I might leave the heavy lifting to younger service members. But I am observant as to what has been lacking in the years, months and recent weeks leading up to the coronavirus response within the United States. Clear direction, unified communications, and orderly process. Precision and calm, measured response to emergencies requires frequent practice. That is what our shipboard drills honed into us, Collisions at sea and terrorist attacks are not the time to practice. In the eleventh hour, the nation needs to heed the “best practices” to minimizing the casualties from this pandemic.